Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Assistive Technology for Students with Visual Impairments: Challenges and Needs in Teachers' Preparation Programs and Practice

Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Assistive Technology for Students with Visual Impairments: Challenges and Needs in Teachers' Preparation Programs and Practice

Article excerpt

Abstract: This article reports on a survey of 165 teachers of students with visual impairments in Texas to examine their perceptions of their knowledge of assistive technology. The results showed that they had significant deficits in knowledge in 55 (74.32%) of the 74 assistive technology competencies that were examined and that 57.5% of them lacked adequate confidence about teaching assistive technology to students.

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Since the 1997 amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, there has been a considerable demand for assistive technology to be included in the Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) of all students with disabilities (Osborne & Russo, 2007), and assistive technology has played an increasingly important part in the education of these students. For individuals with visual impairments (that is, those who are blind or have low vision), there is no debate that assistive technology benefits their education, employment, and daily lives (Cooper & Nichols, 2007; Gerber, 2003; Strobel, Fossa, Arthanat, & Brace, 2006). However, research has found that assistive technology is being significantly underutilized by students who are visually impaired. For example, Kapperman, Sticken, and Heinze (2002) found that in Illinois, 33.7% of primary and secondary students with visual impairments in nonitinerant placements and 73% of those in itinerant placements did not use assistive technology. Similarly, Kelly (2009) found that nationwide, 59% to 71% of the primary and secondary students with visual impairments who were most inclined to benefit from assistive technology did not have the opportunity to use it from 2000 to 2004.

What are the barriers that hinder the use of assistive technology by students who are visually impaired? Mounting evidence has attributed this nonuse of assistive technology, at least partially, to the lack of adequate knowledge and skills of teachers of students with visual impairments in this area (Abner & Lahm, 2002; Edwards & Lewis, 1998; Kapperman et al., 2002; Lee & Vega, 2005; Parker et al., 1990). For example, in the study Edwards and Lewis (1998) conducted in Florida, over half the 113 participating teachers of students with visual impairments admitted that they were not familiar with many of the assistive technology devices that were examined in that study and thus lacked the expertise to teach their students how to use the devices. Similarly, Abner and Lahm (2002) found that in Kentucky, 49% of the 72 teachers of students with visual impairments who completed their survey reported a lack of confidence in teaching assistive technology. The majority of these 72 teachers thought that they were at either the apprentice level (51%) or the novice level (24%) in terms of their teaching skills related to assistive technology. In Kapperman et al.'s (2002) study in Illinois, 43 teachers of students with visual impairments failed to provide valid responses to questions about assistive technology because they lacked enough background knowledge about such technology.

To address the gap in knowledge of assistive technology among teachers of students with visual impairments and to increase the teachers' instructional skills, one must understand their specific deficits in knowledge or skills in this area. Do these teachers have difficulty familiarizing themselves with the use of a variety of assistive devices or lack the strategies for helping students develop assistive technology skills? Do they have difficulty collaborating with other members of students' IEP teams to make appropriate assistive technology evaluations and prescriptions? A clear awareness of the specific assistive technology knowledge or skill areas in which teachers of students with visual impairments have significant deficits is critical for finding ways to close the gaps in knowledge. However, little research has been conducted to determine teachers' specific needs empirically. …

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